Fidel bashes bio-fuels

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, in his first editorial since largely disappearing from public view due to illness last year, charged US demand for biofuels directly hurts the world's poor. The article, appearing in the official Cuban newspaper Granma, was titled "Over three billion people in the world condemned to premature death due to starvation and thirst," charging that biofuel demand pushes farmers worldwide to plant fuel crops instead of food crops needed by the world's poor.

"The sinister idea of converting food into combustibles was definitively established as the economic line of foreign policy of the United States," he wrote. The remarks came in response President Bush's meeting this week with the heads of the big three automakers in Washington. At that meeting, the heads of GM, Ford and DiamlerChrysler reiterated their commitment to double the production of "flex-fuel" vehicles by 2010 and have half of their production E85-capable by 2010.

The Bush administration, in its bid to reduce oil imports, wants to cut gasoline consumption by 20% over the next 10 years and hike production of alternative fuels, including ethanol, to 35 billion gallons a year by 2017. That goal has spiked the demand worldwide for corn, the main source of ethanol in the US.

In his article, Castro said one ton of corn produces 109 gallons of ethanol, so 320 million tons of corn would be needed to produce 35 billion gallons. "Those lands dedicated to the direct production of alcohol can be much more useful to produce food for the people and to protect the environment," he wrote.

Biofuel boosters say the yield of corn seeds has increased dramatically over the last few decades and with time, less corn will be needed to produce fuel. They also point out that most US corn is currently grown for feedstock, not human consumption. (UPI via EarthTimes, March 29)

However, some of our readers have pointed out that US ethanol demand has already helped spark the Mexican tortilla crisis.

See our last posts on biofuels, the oil crisis and Cuba.